“Peter, you take the rest of the guys in the boat, I’m going up the hill and spend some time alone, I’ll catch up with you later.”
We had just finished passing out leftover fish and bread and the sun was setting when Jesus let me know that we could head across the lake without him.
To tell you the truth, it was a relief; I loved my boat, but it was a fishing boat not a ferry and when all thirteen of us were in it she rode low in the water. Just the difference of one person affected the way she would handle, not that there was anything to worry about, Galilee was like a mirror that evening.
“Not a problem where do you want to meet on the other side?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll find you.” And with that he turned and headed up the path away from the beach, and I wandered down to where the guys were waiting.
“Looks like, we are on our own boys, Jesus will hang out here for a while longer and will find his own way over later. John and James, give Andrew a hand getting the boat in the water and then the rest of you can stow the gear.”
The trip across the lake wasn’t particularly long, but with no wind it would just be the four of us rowing so we could count on a few hours.
I enjoyed the company of the guys, but most of them were pretty much useless when it came to being on the water. Thaddaeus was actually less than useless, he was baggage. It didn’t matter how calm it was, we wouldn’t be very far from the shore and he’d be leaning over the rail moaning and groaning. I swear that boy could get sea sick walking across wet grass. On the other hand, John and James had grown on the water and the trip wouldn’t be the same without them on board.
Our fathers had grown up fishing together, and Dad had some wild stories about Old Man Zebedee. Some of my earliest memories were of Dad warning Andrew and I, when we were just kids, about Zebedee’s temper. He used to say the man was just mean and would rather fight than breathe. He told us to stay out of his way and be careful not to provoke him.
And I could believe it, he only had to glance at the John and James and you could see them cower. My father had never raised a hand to either of us in anger although sometimes we probably needed it. The same couldn’t be said about our friends, their father said jump and they were in the air asking how high? And it wasn’t out of respect, it was out of fear for the consequences.
The man was a walking thunder cloud, and Jesus’ nickname for the guys, The Sons of Thunder, had caught on with all of us.
It didn’t take long for everyone to get their stuff aboard the boat and there were the usual quarrels over who would get to nap on the net as we were pushing out into deeper water.
There’d be no naps for me, but that was my life and I loved the water especially at night.
The guys all split in to their usual cliques and I could hear muted bits of conversation as I took my turn at the oars. Simon and Iscariot were plotting the next revolution, while Andrew, James and John talked fishing.
Matthew settled by himself in the stern, the tax collector hadn’t connected with the rest of us yet, most of us simply ignored him, but a couple of the fellows were downright belligerent.
And to be fair we had all our horror stories that involved the tax collectors. Jesus might have forgiven Matthew, but it would be a long time before he was trusted by the rest of us.
As the light faded so did the conversation, the rest of the guys drifted off to sleep and John offered to spell me on the oars as we made our way across the lake. I settled in up at the bow, listening to the slap of the oars on the dark water when I realized just how dark it was. The moon that had reflected off the water’s surface had now disappeared behind the clouds that hid the stars. And the wind had picked up, nothing to worry about but defiantly enough to run the sail up and put the oars away.
“Andrew, wake up, we are going to need your mattress,” I hollered. My little brother rolled off the sail he had made his bed on and stumbled to his feet. “Easy,” I said “or you will end up in the drink, and don’t be expecting me to jump in after you.”
“Don’t worry about me Simon, you’re the klutz, I’ll be fine”. And that was the truth, Andrew had enough grace for both of us, while I stumbled through life. By then James was awake as well and the two of them struggled to get the sail up, fighting against the ever-increasing wind, while I clambered over bodies to get to the rudder in the stern.
As the wind picked up so did our speed, we would be on the far side long before Jesus could make his way around on foot.
This had started out to be a lot more fun, than rowing, but suddenly it wasn’t. The breeze was no longer a breeze, not quite a gale, but it was no longer friendly, and what had filled the sail was now threatening to tear the rigging away from the mast.
And despite the sound of the wind, the slapping of the wave against the hull and the creaking of the rigging I could hear Thaddeus retching over the side. Everybody was awake now, but nobody was talking they were too busy hanging on.
I had grown up on Galilee and knew exactly how fickle it could be, but the suddenness and strength of the wind surprised me, and while I wasn’t exactly afraid I was a little concerned.
The combined weight of twelve men along with the boat’s fishing gear had us drawing more water than I was comfortable with. It was causing us to wallow in between the swells which were getting larger as the wind blew even harder.
What had started as a pleasant evening in the boat now seemed to be a fool’s errand.
“Andrew and James, you are going to have to get the canvas down before we lose it. John you need to get back on the oars while I try to keep us heading into the wind.” I was afraid that my voice would be lost in the wind but the boys were working on instinct and whether they had heard me or not, they were doing what had to be done.
“Is there anything I can do?” Matthew’s voice came drifting out of the dark.
“Just make sure that Thaddaeus doesn’t fall overboard and keep the rest of them still, and low, if we lose anyone overboard we won’t be getting them back.”
I was straining against the rudder as the boat fought to turn broadside into the wind and waves; I knew that if that happened it wouldn’t be long and Jesus would have to look for another bunch of guys to follow him around.
As the waves broke over the bow Matthew pushed everybody to bail water with their hands, it wasn’t much but it was all we had.
And it made a difference, not only in the amount of water onboard but in attitude. Matthew had figured out that if they all had something to do, it would take their minds off of the reality of our situation.
For the most part, Thomas wouldn’t shut up about how he doubted we’d get out of this alive. If I could have reached him, I would have slapped him.
And that’s how it went, for what seemed like hours. Me leaning on the rudder, John straining at the oars, Thaddeus puking and the rest of them bailing. But I knew deep down we couldn’t go on, nobody had much more to give, especially Thaddeus.
I thought of Esther and wondered if she knew him much I loved her and how she was in my thoughts even now. Would she even know what had happened? Galilee always claimed a few boats a year but somehow, I never thought mine would be one of them.
And then it happened, the wind started to die down; the waves flattened and there was a glow, not so much a light as just a glow. I didn’t know if the rest of the guys saw it, so I said nothing. I focused on what it was, and it dawned on me, it had to be the ghost of a sailor who had drown in this very spot.
Maybe he was here to make our transition easier, all I knew was we might go down, but we’d go down fighting. But I didn’t say a word, it would be one more thing for Thomas to grab on to and worry about.
I don’t know who saw it first but someone screamed, and as the surrounding water calmed I realized that it wasn’t a ghost, it was Jesus. I’d know that walk anywhere, and as he got closer, he was grinning. Grinning. And then he hollers, “Hey guys, lighten up, everything will be fine.”
Seriously, right then it wasn’t Thomas I wanted to slap.
And I realized, he was walking on the water. “Hey Jesus” I yelled “Can I do that? Can I walk on water?”
“Sure, come on.”
And I don’t know what I was thinking. Esther would say I wasn’t, but I crawled out over the edge of the boat and stood on the water, literally on the water. Jesus smiled, you know that smile, the one that says, “It’s all right”. And I took a step toward him, and then another one, I was walking on the water. So cool.
Behind Jesus I could still see the wind blowing the tops off the waves. It was like we were protected in some kind of bubble, but once I had seen the storm again it was as if the water under my feet turned to — water.
Before I knew it, water was filling my mouth and my nose. I was flapping around trying to stay afloat, and then Jesus grabbed me, and it was all right.
“Oh Peter, you always start out so well, why do you have to think it through? Just take it on faith pal and you’ll be fine.” And it was. We walked back to the boat together, the rest of them were just staring, like they’d never seen two friends walking on water before.
The rest of the trip was anticlimactic. We sailed across the rest of the lake with just enough wind to fill the sail. As we were pulled the boat up on the beach Jesus turned and winked and said, “I told you I’d meet you here.”
usual I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or scream.